The Southern Agrarian

Southern Agrarianism and the culture of the Old South

Tag: sweet potato

The Southern Agrarian Last Ditch List

Okra pods and flower

Most of us garden primarily for pleasure. It’s what we do because – well, because we are Southern Agrarians. Yes, what we grow ends up on our table or given to friends and neighbors; however, what our garden produces generally does not determine whether we eat or starve.

But what if it did? What if our very fragile system were to collapse leaving the grocery store shelves empty and the streets too dangerous to venture out in? Part of Southern Agrarianism is being independent of that complex system, so this is very much a topic for discussion.

My garden tends to be planned more around what we enjoy eating and growing rather than for maximizing food production when lives depend on it. The Last Ditch List is what I would be planting if lives did depend on it.

 

The Southern Agrarian Last Ditch List

Sweet Potatoes (Centennial)
Incredibly easy to grow; I’m still growing them from the very first slips that I got about eight years ago. I keep moving them around to avoid soil-borne pests and diseases, and they will take transplanting without any problem.
ꔷ The taste is delicious
ꔷ High in nutritional value
ꔷ Will last for months if stored in a cool, dark place
ꔷ The leaves are edible

Okra (Clemson Spineless)
ꔷ Continuous production through hot weather
ꔷ Very resistant to disease and pest
ꔷ Each plant will produce one or two edible pods about every two to three days
ꔷ Easy to save seeds
ꔷ Delicious when fried

Eggplant (Florida Highbush)
ꔷ Highly productive through hot weather
ꔷ Easily prepared and makes a good, filling meal
ꔷ Minimal problems from disease or pests
ꔷ Relatively easy to save seeds if you know the technique
ꔷ Should plant a fairly large number to maintain genetic diversity in seeds

Seminole Pumpkin
ꔷ Fruit can last up to a full year when properly stored
ꔷ Almost impervious to disease or pests
ꔷ Huge vines that drop roots along the way making the plant very resilient and able to thrive on relatively poor ground
ꔷ Lots of organic matter at the end of the season to keep the ground rich
ꔷ Needs good care and lots of water to get started; once established, requires almost no care

Collards (Georgia Southern)
ꔷ Winter crop
ꔷ Other greens will not reliably produce seeds in this area

 

Second Tier crops

These are ones that I am still working with but don’t have enough experience yet to put them on the Last Ditch List. Nothing other than lack of a well established track record keeps me from putting them on the Last Ditch List.

Potatoes (Yukon Gold)
This is only my second time planting these, but all indications are that they should make the Last Ditch List in the next year or two.

Squash (Tromboncino)
The variety makes all the difference. I have given up on the more typical yellow squash; bugs have destroyed them every single time I have tried. Tromboncino, on the other hand, is highly resistant to pests due to its tough outer skin. The fruit is pale green, long and thin, and grows on a vine. I have them growing along a fence.

 

Not On The List

These are crops that I grow now, but they don’t meet the criteria for inclusion on the Last Ditch List.

Beans (Kentucky Wonder or Blue Lake) – Too many poor results. Sometimes I get a good crop, and other times it’s a poor crop. Inconsistent. May be moved to the Last Ditch List once I learn more, but not yet. Good potential once I learn more.

Corn (Reid’s Yellow Dent) – Low yield for the amount of space it takes up. Heavy drain on the garden soil. If any crops would be available for purchase following a collapse, it would be grains. They are well suited for large scale, highly mechanized farming, and they transport and store well. I keep some seeds on hand for use in corn meal or for chicken feed – just in case.

Tomatoes (Homestead 24) – Too easily damaged by bugs or disease or blossom end rot. They stop producing when the weather gets hot.

Peppers (Carolina Wonder) – Susceptibility to Blossom End Rot keeps peppers off the list. If I can get the calcium deficiency solved, this might be moved to the Last Ditch List.

 

Final Notes

Vegetable gardening is very location-dependent. This Last Ditch List is what works for me here in north central Florida. There is a really good chance that your Last Ditch List would be different. Maybe very different. Perhaps the most value from this list is in the criteria – why I chose what I did for this list.

What is on your Last Ditch List – and why?

Sweet Potato Update

Our first crop of sweet potatoes was a major disappointment. Although the plants were extremely vigorous, they produced only a few potatoes when it came time to dig them up. In addition, their extensive root system seemed to take over the entire raised bed garden section. Next year’s crop will be grown directly in the ground rather than in the raised bed. The raised bed area is too valuable to use plants that take up so much space – especially for such a miniscule yield.

For those who think that gardening could consist of buying a can of “survival seeds” and just putting them into the ground, this is yet another example of why that’s a really bad idea. Growing food takes experimentation and experience (the redundancy was intentional).

I am confident that there is a good explanation readily available to show me just what I did wrong. I just haven’t found it yet. Sweet potatoes are an important food source crop, so I will continue experimenting until I get it right – or learn that it just isn’t going to be a viable crop for my location.

Hot Weather Crops

Here in The South, the intense summer heat limits your garden to only those few plant varieties that can truly handle the heat. Fall, Winter, and Spring gardens are when we get the nice lush growth, but with the heat and the insects it takes careful planning and selection to have a beautiful and productive garden.

This has been an especially hot and dry summer, and the stink bugs were out in force. I have long since pulled up the tomato and squash plants that just couldn’t handle the heat. Here is what I have in the garden now (July 19, 2011).

Strawberries - they are not producing fruit now, but the plants are handling the heat just fine.

Bell peppers are producing well. They turn red before they get very big, but they produce far more than we can use ourselves.

Sweet potatoes. These are doing very well. There are 4 plants in this section of the garden.

Egg plant. The fruit doesn't get very big before harvest stage, but they still produce far more than we can use.

Egg plant ready to be picked

Okra - the Summer performer. No matter how hot the weather, okra just keeps on producing. The only pest is ants, and they are a minor problem and relatively easy to control.

Sweet potato being grown in a container

ECHO Demonstration Farm

We recently visited the ECHO Demonstration Farm in Fort Myers, Florida. ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) is a great resource for those wanting to learn how to grow food in difficult conditions. This trip was focused on a missionary project in Sierra Leone, West Africa. I am vice-president of Gather The Fragments Bible Mission Church, Inc. – my wife and I provide logistical support for missionaries working to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a remote part of a very remote country – Sierra Leone. This trip to ECHO was with one of those missionaries so that she could learn more about how to improve the agriculture in that area.

ECHO publishes some excellent books. “Amaranth to Zai Holes – Ideas for Growing Food Under Difficult Conditions” is one of my favorites. While it covers problems that we in The South usually don’t face (iguanas, elephants, and monkeys are not typical garden pests here in The South), it is filled with great ideas that we can use here.

 

Guide describing the "urban garden" area. The farm is divided into different environments, and the urban garden area is build on a concrete slab.

The chickens coop in the back supplies manure, which is made into a tea, which is drip irrigated on the plants.

Wooden pallets used to build a platform that holds plastic bags of soil for plants to grow in.

Poles forming a pyramid for plants to climb on.

Extremely shallow planting. A plastic pool liner was used, along with a piece of old carpeting to grow crops in. Hay and other materials provide shade for the roots and reduce evaporation.

More shallow garden experiments. All of these are right on top of a concrete slab.

Plants growing in concrete blocks.

Sweet potatoes being grown in a stack of old tires filled with soil.

Tall poles (about 12' tall) were used to support climbing plants such as pole beans and cucumbers. The cord wrapped around gives the plants something to hold onto. The poles were supported with guy wires.

Biogas generator. This system uses manure to generate, capture, and store methane gas. The gas is stored in a truck inner tube. It is used to run a stove and lantern in this arrangement.

This is a dug well that has two pumps in it. The one being demonstrated here uses a hand crank that pulls pistons on a rope through a PVC pipe to pump the water.

This is a treadle powered pump that supplies the garden area to the left.

Huge sunflowers being grown here. These are the "Mammoth" variety.

Rice paddy demonstration. This is the traditional flood technique. Part of the reason this technique is used is to raise eels that are a delicacy in some parts of the world.

This is a newer, more efficient method of growing rice. The fields are not flooded, and other crops are planted between rice crops.

These ducks are part of a food producing ecosystem that includes micro-organisms that feed on the duck manure, and tilapia that feeds on organisms a bit higher on the food chain. The end result is meat from the fish, and eggs and meat from the ducks.

Plants being readied for their place at the ECHO farm.